Hanoi jail holds transgender prisoner in solitary confinement

By Thai Son, Thanh Nien News

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Tram Anh (also known as Nguyen Van Hieu) is being detained in a separate cell in Hanoi. Photo provided by Hanoi police. Tram Anh (also known as Nguyen Van Hieu) is being detained in a separate cell in Hanoi. Photo provided by Hanoi police.


A transgender model who rose to fame after participating in two televised reality shows was put into solitary confinement, on Tuesday, after officials at the Hanoi jail said they couldn't determine where to house her.

Prison officials said they finally sent Tram Anh, whose given name is Nguyen Van Hieu, into a separate cell, after determining it was not “okay” to put the transgender prisoner into either male or female holding cell.

“It is not okay for a transgender woman to share a room with other male prisoners,” Lieutenant General Ta Xuan Binh of the Ministry of Public Security told Thanh Nien News.

“However, other female prisoners objected to being housed in the same cell with the arrestee. As such, we had to arrange a separate room [for her]”.

Police caught Tram Anh red-handed while she was making a drug transaction on a Hanoi street on Monday.

Anh was arrested while in possession of a plastic bag containing 2.6 grams of amphetamine.

Anh said she bought the pills for VND 2 million (US$94) and intended to sell them for VND 2.5 million ($117).

The transgender woman became a household hame after she registered to be a contestant on the 2012 Vietnam Next Top Model Competition.

Lan Anh's name became known to the public after her brief run on Vietnam's Next Top Model. Photo provided by the contest organizers.

Tram Anh was eliminated from the competition after producing an identity card that listed her gender as “male.”

The right of individuals to determine the gender reflected on their identification card is something civil society groups are now pushing for in Vietnam.

Anh later dropped out of the first round of another televised modeling competition, Vietnam Idol. This time, the sound of her voice was cited as the impetus for her elimination.

Tram Anh  rose closer to fame after a local cosmetic surgeon sponsored the entire fee for her operation in Thailand. Soon afterward, she became the surgeon's spokesperson.

The operation only changed shape of her face; other parts in her body, including her sex organs, remained unchanged.

Vietnamese law does not yet contain provisions for such special cases, Binh said, adding that jail officials should devise temporary solutions for such scenarios.

The Ministry of Public Security proposed creating separate cells for homosexuals in a bill the agency is circulating for public opinion.

Under the draft temporary detention law, which will only pertain to detainees awaiting trial (rather than prisoners serving time post-conviction) agencies that are unable to identify the gender of a given arrestee must coordinate with medical agencies to identify their genders.

The list of suspects eligible for such determination includes congenital hermaphrodites and those who have partially or fully completed elective gender reassignment surgeries.

These detainees will be held in separate holding areas before being sent to gender-based sections when their gender is determined.

Those who engage in homosexual relations with other inmates will be fined and sent to separate holding areas.

The bill also proposed separate detention for foreigners, teens, people suffering infectious disease and inmates accused of brutal crimes (e.g. murder, rape, robbery, national security crimes and capitol offenses).

VnExpress news website ran an article in September about a transgender prisoner who underwent a surgery to become a female but was put into a holding cell with 60 other male prisoners.

Lan Anh, 28, told the news website that during her four-year detention, she broke down crying several times as she begged her cellmates to stop harassing her.

“My breasts were left bruised on several occasions following such harassment,” said Lan Anh, whose given name was Cao Phuoc Nguyen.

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